Andrew Jackson
His Life and Times

Author: H.W. Brands


The purpose here is to describe Andrew Jackson regarding the Cherokees driven from their homeland – the trail of tears. But first some other points gathered from the book.

Brands writes:

The legal profession, in the 1780s as later, was to American society what the clergy and the military were to certain other countries and cultures: an avenue of advancement for those with talent and ambition but with neither wealth nor connections.  Protestant America had no church hierarchy to speak of, precluding the priestly route to success, and it had no standing army, making a military career unappealing.

Jackson was thirteen during the revolutionary war. He lived in a rebel district where Tory raiders burned barns, crops and houses. He served the rebel cause as a scout and courier, on horseback. In his district the British destroyed what little was left of rebel property and seized remaining horses and cattle. Jackson's mother and her sons returned with others to the area and partisan warfare continued, with neighbor fighting neighbor.

Jackson rode with the rebels and was captured at his aunt's house. A British officer found opportunity to humiliate – an unnecessary move during war but which a few do when the opportunity presents itself. The British officer ordered Jackson to clean his muddy boots. Jackson refused. The officer drew his sword and struck Jackson on his left hand and head. With blood gushing from his head, Jackson stood his ground.

Jackson became a slave owner. In pages of detail, Brands describes this, beginning with,

Jackson could be a hard man, as the many who ran afoul of him during his life discovered. Yet toward Rachel [his wife] he was tender to a fault, as he was toward children and horses. His feelings toward slaves fell between his feelings for children and for horses.

To the issue of Amerindians, during the War of 1812 a party of Creek Indians murdered "innocent wives and little babies."  Jackson favored marching into the Creek nation, demanding that the killers be turned over and if not laying the Creek towns to ashes (somewhat similar to demanding that the Taliban stop harboring Osama bin Laden). This was in Tennessee, and Jackson was the state's military commander. A civil war among the Creeks followed, with Creek leaders on one side having decided to execute the killers themselves. And at the end of this war, Jackson adopted a Creek Indian orphan.

Brands speaks of Jackson's interest in national security, that he had nothing against Indians as persons but that he was concerned about Indian nations on the frontier living outside U.S. society. Indians had frequently fought on the side of enemies – the British and before them, the French. 

Different bands of Cherokees had adopted different strategies regarding whites, and the strategy of Cherokees in Georgia had been to adopt white ways. While Jackson was president (1829-1837), the Georgia legislature, in the words of Brands, "passed laws transparently intended to make life miserable for  the Cherokees, in order that they abandon their lands and follow their cousins west across the Mississippi." The Georgia Cherokees took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the acts of Georgia "repugnant to the constitution, laws and treaties of the United States." Jackson believed, in the words of  Brands, "that separation between whites and Indians offered the only chance for Indian survival." Jackson wrote of the failures to defend Indians and that thoughts of "extinct" Indian nations excited "melancholy reflections." Jackson believed that if the Cherokees stayed in Georgia they risked extinction. He believed that Georgia was determined to expel the Cherokees despite the Supreme Court's ruling, and he did not want to make war on Georgia to prevent it. For Jackson, the  Supreme Court's decision was a delay in having the Cherokees move west of the Mississippi – a move that he, Jackson, was willing to subsidize. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was John Marshall, and the New York newspaper editor Horace Greeley reported Jackson as saying, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it." These words, according to Brands, captured Jackson's attitude.

The Supreme Court had no enforcement power of it own. In 1838-39, when Jackson was no longer president, the Cherokees were forced to relocate to Oklahoma, and the move was badly managed. The Cherokees traveled through rain and snow, lacked sufficient food, clothing, and shelter and "succumbed to exposure, infectious disease, and simple exhaustion."